Saturday, August 11, 2012

Review: "Anna Dressed in Blood" by Kendare Blake

Kendare Blake's "Anna Dressed in Blood" puts a neat spin on a familiar ghost-hunter story.

Cas is the hero of the story, a high school student who goes through the motions at each school he attends -- he knows he's going to spend his life killing ghosts, just like his (deceased) father, so a diploma is an afterthought. He moves around the country with his mother, taking care of ghosts in need of killing. He meets his match in Anna, a teenage girl who haunts the house she grew up in and who kills anyone to pass within the house's door. She's the strongest ghost he's ever fought, and though he's convinced he'll take her down eventually, he's surprised by how much he really doesn't want to. But the trouble in Thunder Bay may not be Anna after all, and Cas will need all the help he can get to figure out what's really going on.

First things first: Cas. The stereotypical hero in a story like this is a man (or a boy, as the case may be) who is a social misfit. He does what he does very well, but he has a hard time functioning in "normal" society and frequently has a tough time with the ladies. Cas, however, has got the high school social structure down pat. When he starts at a new school, he deliberately seeks out the most popular girl in school:

I need to be plugged into the social pipeline. I need to get people talking to me, so I can ask them questions that I need answers to. So when I transfer in, I always look for the queen bee.

Every school has one. The girl who knows everything and everybody. I could go and try to insta-bond with the lead jock, I suppose, but I've never been good at that. My dad and I never watched sports or played catch. I can wrestle the dead all day long, but touch football might knock me unconscious. Girls, on the other hand, have always come easy. I don't know why that is, exactly. Maybe it's the outsider vibe and a well-placed brooding look.

That self-assurance and confidence were a welcome change; I get tired of reading about the hero who longs to fit in. Cas was  comfortable with himself and the way his job took him out of the usual society. Later, that attitude went a ways toward explaining his attraction to Anna -- but I still had a hard time swallowing that. I mean -- she's a ghost. Cas has obviously lived a lonely life, but why he turns to the one girl with whom he absolutely cannot have a future, I'm not sure. (Spoiler-ish: I have to admit, I found the scene where Cas and Anna kiss to be icky. She's dead. Not to mention she's killed dozens of people.)

But the revelation and resolution of Anna's roots aren't the crux of this book; that honor goes to the mystery of the ghost that killed Cas' father. The developments here were nicely foreshadowed, and I particularly liked the way Blake developed the killer ghost. He was particularly creepy and suitably intimidating. Actually, many of the ghost- or horror-related scenes were well done; the part where Anna drops Cas into a basement full of rotting but sentient corpses is an excellent example.

The sequel, "Girl of Nightmares," came out Aug. 7. At $9.99 for the e-book, it's not an automatic pickup, but I'll keep my eyes on it and grab it if the price goes lower (or if the public library makes a copy available).

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